OGDEN -- After a wildfire destroyed his home and burned his body, Phoenix rose from the ashes.
Kent Keller, who puts bands on baby eagles to track their longevity and migration patterns, had put one on a young golden eagle on June 1 and left him with his family on a mountainside in Utah County. But later that month, gunfire sparked a blaze near Saratoga Springs that scorched 5,500 acres of the county and destroyed his nest.
Keller returned to the nest site late last month after the fire was out, to locate the eaglet's body and close his file. But among the ashes and scorched remains of the mountainside, the eaglet lived.
"The nest was completely gone, but he saw two legs sticking out from behind a juniper tree," said DaLyn Erickson, director of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in Ogden, relating Keller's story.
It took a few days for Keller to get through red tape and rescue the survivor. But on Wednesday, Keller brought the bird to the rehabilitation center, where his new caretakers named him Phoenix.
Staff members were hesitant about naming him on the first day, though, because they weren't sure the bird would live, Erickson said.
But after a lot of water, food, ointments and antibiotics, Phoenix is growing stronger and healthier each day.
Erickson held the recovering raptor's wings out, showing how his feathers were blackened and crispy. He stretched out his talons, which were likewise damaged. From what Erickson can tell, his entire body must have been engulfed in flames.
And yet here he is. Not only that, his eyes and eyelids are completely untouched, Erickson said.
He squawked, resisting Erickson's hold of him a bit and biting the air. His aggression is a good sign that he's getting better, she said with a smile.
Phoenix's parents had been leaving food like squirrels and rabbits for him when he was at the burnt nest site, but the young eagle was too weak and hurt to eat. Now that he's recovered, he's on a diet of venison with vitamin supplements.
There are about 450 animals, including two other golden eagles, at the non-
profit rehabilitation center, which is completely funded through donations and staffed by volunteers. There is no special fund for eagles, and the center could use any help the community has to offer, Erickson said.
Phoenix will need a few months for his feet to heal, Erickson said, and at least a year for his feathers to molt. Once he's fully recovered, the plan is to release him back into the wild.
Donations of more venison for Phoenix or money for medicine can be dropped off at the center, she added.
The Dump Fire where Phoenix was found has been out for a few days, but there are seven large wildfires still burning across the state.
Only one of them, the Church Camp Fire in Duchesne County, is contained. The other six have burned anywhere from 15 acres in Uinta Canyon to more than 108,000 acres in the Clay Springs Fire.